Critique Group – Brain Hacker

Les Mis

Okay, Marius, but I hope the safety is on.

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Brain Hacker – by Bill

Introduction

“Yes! I’m in!” The lines of code seemed to appear on the screen magically. Seventeen year old Teddy Sanders’ fingers were flying across the keyboard. Teddy, a tall lanky kid with a thick mop of brown hair, sat crosswise on the overstuffed chair in his best friend’s basement.

“Cool.” said Eriq, glancing from his own laptop over toward Teddy’s. “Did you use SQL injection?”

“No, the morons left the default admin password in the CMS on their website. Once I had access to that I used a Javascript vulnerability in their own API to access their servers.”

“Sweet! You’re the man Teddy!”

“I know. And, I didn’t even need all this extra brain power. These dweebs make it way too easy.

The bright sun shone through the basement window highlighting the dust that filled the air of the 70’s style paneled basement. Teddy and Eriq hung out here almost every day after school. They had met in the sixth grade at Sherwood Academy, an elite prep school for “gifted” children. Eriq was a charity case, at least that’s what the jerks at school called him. The school needed to fill their quota of poor kids, so Eriq got a scholarship. But, that’s why Teddy liked him. He hated that his parents, well his mom, had money. Besides, Eriq was smarter than most of those snobs, even without a stim.

“Hey Eriq, check out the new homepage I just created for them.” Teddy spun the screen of his laptop toward Eriq. The display showed a pic of a zombie lumbering forward, the flap of skin that hung from his head only slightly blocking the corporate logo of the Ingenio Corporation.
Eriq and Teddy both laughed out loud. Eriq popped up off of the couch and slapped Teddy’s hand. “Man they are gonna freak.”

Teddy flipped the screen back around. “Okay, here we go, RS Project Files, that’s just what I was looking for. Let’s have some fun.”

Chapter 1

The piano’s hammers rocked up and down as rapidly as the pistons of a large muscle car. The notes reverberated from the piano’s soundboard filling the large concert hall. The tiny fingers of 6 year old Emily Bright danced across the black and ivory colored keys. Mr. And Mrs. Bright sat in the front row beaming with pride as their young daughter masterfully keyed Scarbo, the third movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. There were more than 2500 people in Boston’s Symphony Hall, but the only sound that could be heard came from the single Steinway grand piano in the center of the stage. As the diminutive virtuoso completed the last note, every man, woman, and child in the audience rose to their feet and burst into raucous applause.

“One of the most difficult pieces of piano music ever written, and she has literally made it child’s play. There are only a handful of people in the world that can play that piece.” Brett Primly, a slick well-dressed account rep for Ingenio Corp. handed Tajinder and the very pregnant Shobha Kapur his company’s brochure. “She’s one of ours.”

The Ingenio Corp. headquarters, a 100-story glass-covered postmodern building topped with an octagonal dome reminiscent of the temple at Pali, is located at 271 Dartmouth Street, a prime piece of real estate, in one of Boston’s most expensive neighborhoods. At a height of more than 1200 feet, the Ingenio Tower dwarfed the rest of the city’s buildings as it loomed over the city.

As Mr. and Mrs. Kapur entered Ingenio’s cavernous lobby they were greeted by a very attractive well-dressed tall and slender young woman. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Kapur, I am Jill Danskill, I will be showing you around today. Would you like some champagne or maybe coffee or tea?”

“No, no thank you” Tajinder replied. “We are anxious to get started.” After a quick stop at the security desk to pick up guest ID badges, the three made their way over to the bank of elevators, Jill swiped her ID card across the elevator’s card reader, and they boarded the express elevator to the 92nd floor.

The elevator opened to an expansive panoramic view of Boston’s Charles River and Cambridge’s MIT. The 92nd floor wrapped around the building where the dome began and provided stunning views of the city. Jill gestured toward the domed structure on the Charles that defined the MIT campus. “That’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Patel’s alma mater. He insisted that this building had to overlook MIT. He IS our founder after all.”

Jill ushered the Kapurs into the viewing room where they were seated on a large plush sofa facing an enormous LED flat screen that covered the entirety of the 20 foot wall in front of them. As the huge screen lit the room, the lights dimmed and the speakers boomed as God had to Moses on Mount Sinai. “Welcome to Ingenio. We all want the best for our children. We will do whatever we can to provide them with every opportunity and every advantage. We know that as smart or as talented as they are, there are hundreds of children who are smarter or more talented.”

On the screen a group of children wearing gray uniforms marched compliantly toward a factory building. A classroom full of children all held up their hands as the camera panned out to show hundreds of children all competing to answer the same question.

“What if you could guarantee your child’s success? What if your child were given the ultimate advantage?”

A child on the screen effortlessly played a violin solo. Another, barely out of diapers, was playing speed chess, and a third young girl wearing a white doctor’s coat was attending to the medical needs of an elderly patient.

 
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8 replies

  1. I hope to critique this over the weekend. In the meantime, I hope others chime in.

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  2. I find hackers cool, so that hooked me pretty fast. I like the interaction between the two boys.

    The biggest problem I’m seeing here is a distant point of view, which is leading to a lot of author explanation. When you’re writing a story, you should be in the character’s head, not outside describing things the character doesn’t think about. You have a lot of details, but I don’t know which character I’m supposed to be following.
    If you do tighten things up, remember to only write what the character is experiencing. Most boys who are in the middle of hacking something won’t be thinking about their height, age, or build, so you’ll want to put these in more naturally. Telling the building’s height also seems to be something most people wouldn’t think about. Would they think of it being over so many feet tall, or would they just think it’s the tallest building around.

    The setup is pretty good. Keep writing!

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  3. I like the setup of this story. It has a dark yet quirky feel to it that I really like. I’m not really sure how to contribute critiques. Great job and I hope I get to read more of it some day 🙂

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  4. Hi Bill!

    The title hooked me immediately. I mean hackers and brains?? 🙂 And the prologue really captivated me, and left me wanting more. Though when I read the next part, I noticed that there was a decent bit of information dumping and I wasn’t sure who’s POV it was. But I really liked it and hope to someday read more! Good luck with the writing!

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  5. Bill,

    I like the concept of using gifted kids in an educational environment. This allows you to draw in adults as well as younger readers. This concept could yield some fascinating intrigue.

    To be frank, if not for my responsibility to critique, I wouldn’t have read past the introduction. Beginning with bratty kids engaged in criminal activity is risky, because most readers won’t like them, and you might lose readers who are searching for a story that will grab them in a positive way at the start. If I were browsing in a bookstore and read the first page of this, I would put it back and pick another.

    I don’t mind a story that begins with a villain if the villain is someone more intriguing than bad little boys in a basement.

    My first technical issue is that it seems you are using omniscient point of view (POV), which forced me to stay aloof from the characters. This is fine, if that’s what you’re aiming for, but this style will not allow for the deepest intimacy between characters and readers. Readers will feel that they are hearing a narrator telling a story, but they won’t feel that they are actually there inside the characters and following their viewpoints.

    If you’re wondering what I mean about intimate POV, I will point out what I mean once and not belabor the issue afterward. For much more on POV, check out my nine-part series on POV that begins here – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/05/25/writing-point-of-view-part-1/ as well as an appendix that I added later here – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/11/30/character-descriptions-while-writing-with-intimate-point-of-view/

    First: The lines of code seemed to appear on the screen magically.

    To whom does it seem? To Teddy? If so, then this would be Teddy’s POV, but if we were intimately in Teddy’s POV, he wouldn’t be reporting his age, his height, or the quality of his hair. In intimate POV, you would report only what would naturally enter the POV character’s mind and senses.

    Also, it couldn’t be Eriq’s POV, because Teddy hasn’t yet shown the screen to Eriq.

    Next: And, I didn’t even need all this extra brain power.

    What extra brain power? This didn’t appear to be a natural response.

    The paragraph that begins with “The bright sun” is an information dump, which stops the story in its tracks. If readers must know this information, you need to let it come out bit by bit in a natural way as the story progresses.

    Next: He hated that his parents, well his mom, had money. Besides, Eriq was smarter than most of those snobs, even without a stim.

    I didn’t understand “even without a stim.” Do you mean that Eriq did or didn’t have a stim? It could be interpreted either way.

    Next: Teddy spun the screen of his laptop toward Eriq.

    This made me think he spun the screen but not the rest of the laptop. I suggest “spun the laptop.” If you make this change, also change “Teddy flipped the screen back around.”

    Next: The piano’s hammers rocked up and down as rapidly as the pistons of a large muscle car.

    Comparisons are great, but it is often best to make them subtle or at least within the experience of the POV character so that it is a natural comparison. Since you have no POV character, I wonder who would make this comparison of piano hammers to auto pistons, especially those of a large muscle car. I assume pistons are quite rapid no matter what kind of car is in view.

    Without a POV character who would make this comparison, it jerked me out of the story. Just say that they rocked up and down rapidly.

    Next: The notes reverberated from the piano’s soundboard filling the large concert hall.

    If the notes filled the concert hall, then you need a comma after “soundboard.” If the soundboard filled the hall, which I doubt, it’s fine the way it is.

    Next: The tiny fingers of 6 year old Emily Bright danced across the black and ivory colored keys.

    When I read this, I assumed someone was watching her, probably her parents, but then the next sentence described her parents, so the POV issue cropped up again.

    Also, it should be written this way: The tiny fingers of six-year-old Emily Bright danced across the black-and-ivory keys.

    After the applause, I grew confused. Someone began talking, but I couldn’t locate that person. Was he in the audience? If so, how could he speak during the raucous applause.

    Then as I read on, I saw that the scene relocated to corporate offices of some kind, or perhaps an education center, without any transition, which jolted me. I also wondered why Brett would talk about the piano player since he was in another place.

    The paragraph that starts with “The Ingenio Corp. headquarters” is another information dump that halts your story.

    Next: “very attractive”

    This is another example of the need of a POV character. Who decided that she is very attractive? This is an interpretation of physical features, but the only features you provided are “well-dressed tall and slender” which could be true of a woman many might think ugly. Also, well-dressed is an interpretation. What does that look like? You haven’t provided a true description.

    Next: “champagne” The offer of champagne is a good show-don’t-tell feature. Good job.

    Next: Jill swiped her ID card across the elevator’s card reader.

    I think you can delete either the first or second use of “card.” You don’t need both.

    Next: provided stunning views of the city.

    Who thinks the view is stunning? What makes it stunning? Show, don’t tell, unless you have a POV character who is providing an interpretation.

    For more on “show, don’t tell” see these tips:

    http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/09/21/show-dont-tell-part-one/

    http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/09/28/show-dont-tell-part-two/

    Next: As the huge screen lit the room, the lights dimmed and the speakers boomed as God had to Moses on Mount Sinai.

    This is another comparison that jerked me out of the story. Who is comparing the speakers to God? Without a POV character, this comparison is odd and out of place. Just say that the speakers boomed.

    Next: “We know that as smart or as talented as they are, there are hundreds of children who are smarter or more talented.”

    I can’t figure out why a sales pitch would say this.

    Next: On the screen a group of children wearing gray uniforms marched compliantly toward a factory building.

    Again, this is a bizarre sales piece. What parent would want to see this?

    I think this idea can be built into an amazing story, but I think you need a POV character. Maybe Brett could be showing the prospective parents the concert through a doorway, then they could go across the street to the office. The entire scene could be Brett’s POV, and you could provide some insights from his mind as well as some foreshadowing hints.

    I wish you well on this intriguing project.

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  6. Thank you Bryan and everyone who has provided feedback. This is my first attempt at writing so I expected that I would need significant guidance. Your comments are all very valuable and very much appreciated.

    Best,
    Bill

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  7. Hello! I just want to start by saying I am 18 and love reading and writing! I am no writing expert, but I hope that I can give you some insight from a teenager’s perspective that will help you write an awesome story! 🙂

    Your book definitely intrigued me from the get go; the suspense about what the hackers were up to intrigued my interest! After the intro, the curiosity from that suspense is what drove me to want to continue reading. The information from Chapter 1 was interesting but presented in a way that was quite confusing. I agree with some of the comments above and would say that re-writing it in a cohesive point of view would make the story come together much better. A lot of the details and descriptions you gave would make a whole lot more sense if you told this story from a character’s point of view. Additionally, My favorite part about reading books is being able to connect with the characters, and I felt like I couldn’t really connect with your characters with the way you wrote this story. I think you have interesting characters I would love to connect with! That connection would become possible with an intimate point of view, and I would love to see that. 🙂
    Also, I have one slight grammar comment that I learned to be effective from my experience of reading books and writing stories. Whenever the story shifts to a character saying something or something being commented on, give it a whole new paragraph. For example, changing:

    “As Mr. and Mrs. Kapur entered Ingenio’s cavernous lobby they were greeted by a very attractive well-dressed tall and slender young woman. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Kapur, I am Jill Danskill, I will be showing you around today. Would you like some champagne or maybe coffee or tea?”

    To this:

    As Mr. and Mrs. Kapur entered Ingenio’s cavernous lobby they were greeted by a very attractive well-dressed tall and slender young woman.
    “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Kapur, I am Jill Danskill, I will be showing you around today. Would you like some champagne or maybe coffee or tea?”

    From my experience, whenever shifts in focus are separated by paragraphs, the story always reads much smoother.

    Overall, your concept is AMAZING. I am interested in hearing the rest of your story and I really hope that you will continue writing and letting your imagination run wild and free!

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  8. I would say that this concept will attract most young people nowadays, it is creative and new. However, if you want adults to read it (because I know my mom, dad, and grandma who are all hardcore readers never read a book starting this way), I would start with something a little more mature, moral, or mysterious in a book. Most mature adults will not read a book if starts with something commonplace or behaviorally wrong that they just don’t want to hear about. Now, for example, my dad is a lawyer, and so if he started reading it he would put it down because this is law-breaking and bad behavior of young punks who don’t know what they’re doing! He has to deal with this in his house with all us kids and at his job with illegal conduct, so he wouldn’t want to read it if it began so. But, not all adults are like this perhaps, and so I am sorry if that comment was a little too hearted. But, I think that the story idea will spread like wildfire if only you push it a bit ‘into the deep end’. 🙂 I very much liked your air about the places these are in, and I would applaud you for it. *claps* Also, perhaps some clarity in POV? But, I will not say more on the matter because I realize that other critics have made it very clear and you’ve probably got the point. So, all I have to say is au revoir, keep writing, and good job!
    Isabelle.

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